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The Party Wall Act 1996
as it affects the garden

At first sight, it is easy to think that the 1996 Party Wall Act does not affect garden construction, however it does affect the construction of boundary walls even if not part of buildings and can also applies to deep excavations.

The Party Wall Act 1996 came into force in 1997, so it is now law and gives you rights and responsibilities whichever the side of the 'wall' you are on i.e. whether you are planning/doing work on a relevant structure or if your neighbour is.

The Party Wall Act does not apply to boundary fences.

The Party Wall Act does not affect any requirement for Planning Permission for any work undertaken. Likewise, having Planning Permission does not negate the requirements under the Party Wall Act.

The Party Wall Act comes into effect if someone is planning to do work on a relevant structure, for the purposes of the Act 'party wall' does not just mean the wall between two semi-detached properties, as far as gardeners are concerned it covers:

  • A garden wall, where the wall is astride the boundary line (or butts up against it) and is used to separate the properties but is not part of any building.
  • Excavation near to a neighbouring property.

For details of how the Party Wall Act affects building work in general, have a look at this page.

As with all work affecting neighbours, it is always better to reach a friendly agreement rather than resort to any law. Even where the work requires a notice to be served, it is better to informally discuss the intended work, consider the neighbours comments, and amend your plans (if appropriate) before serving the notice.

What garden work needs a notice and permission.

The general principle of the Party Wall Act is that all work which might have an effect upon the structural strength or support function of the party wall or might cause damage to the neighbouring side of the wall must be notified. If in doubt, advice should be sought from a local Building Control Office or professional surveyor/architect.

Work in the garden covered by the Party Wall Act include:


  • To demolish and/or rebuild/build a party boundary wall.
  • To increase the height or thickness of a party boundary wall.
  • Excavations within 3 metres of a neighbouring building where the excavation will go below the bottom of the foundations of the neighbouring building.
  • Excavations within 6 metres of a neighbouring building where the excavation will go below a line drawn 45° downwards from the bottom of the foundations of the neighbouring building.

Boundary walls

If the planned work on a boundary wall falls under the Party Wall Act, a notice must be issued to all affected neighbouring parties. The notice must include (see sample letters in Part 5 of the Party Wall leaflet):

  • The owners of the property undertaking the work.
  • The address of the property.
  • A full description of the proposed work (this will normally be just a single sentence outlining the work).
  • The proposed start date for the work.
  • A clear statement that the notice is being served under The Party Wall etc Act 1996.
  • The date the notice is being served.
  • If the work involves excavations, a drawing showing the depth, position etc.

If the planned work is a new boundary wall up to or astride the boundary line the process of serving a notice under the Party Wall Act is as follows:

  • The person intending to carryout the work must serve a written notice at least one months before the intended start of the work to every neighbouring party giving details of the work to be carried out.
  • Each neighbouring party should respond in writing giving consent or registering dissent - if a neighbouring party does nothing within 14 days of receiving the notice, the effect is to put the notice into dispute. However no formal agreement is needed for a wall up to the boundary line, the neighbour just needs not to object in writing.
  • No work may commence on a wall astride the boundary line until all neighbouring parties have agreed in writing to the notice (or a revised notice).

See below regarding what happens in the event of a dispute/objection.

Excavations

If the planned work is an excavation within the distance/depth covered by the Party Wall Act, the notice needs to be served at least one month before the planned start day of the work. Neighbouring parties must give written agreement within 14 days or a dispute is deemed to have occurred.

See below regarding what happens in the event of a dispute/objection.

What happens if a dispute arises

If agreement cannot be reached between neighbouring parties, the process is as follows:

  • A Surveyor or Surveyors is/are appointed to determine a fair and impartial Award, either:
    • A single 'Agreed Surveyor' (someone acceptable to all parties).
      or
    • Each party appoints their own Surveyor to represent the individual parties.
    The person who is carrying out the work will normally have to pay all the costs of the Surveyors, the only exception being if the neighbour calls out a Surveyor unnecessarily - in the opinion of the Surveyor. However it should be noted that any Surveyor must act within their statutory responsibilities and propose a fair and impartial Award.
  • The Agreed Surveyor, or the individual Surveyors jointly, will produce an Award which must be fair and impartial to all parties.
  • Once an Award has been made, all parties have 14 days to appeal to a County Court against the Award.

Once you have agreement

Once you have agreement, all work must comply with the notice. All the agreements should be retained to ensure that a record of the granted permission is kept; a subsequent purchaser of the property may wish to establish that the work was carried out in accordance with the Party Wall Act requirements.


Remember:

  • We've only given a brief outline of the Party Wall Act here as it affects garden work but have a look at the Communities and Local Government website for a more comprehensive explanatory booklet including example letters for notices and responses.
  • Discussing intended work with neighbours is free and can avoid misunderstanding which might arise if a notice arrives unexpectedly.
  • Your local Building Control Office may be able to give free advice regarding the Party Wall Act and how it applies to particular circumstances.
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